Only two running backs in the history of the NFL have rushed for more than 1,400 yards boasting a better than 6 yard-per-carry average in a single season. The first being legendary Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and the second … the former Texas Longhorn who suffered a 2011 season-ending week two tear of the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament against the Detroit Lions.
“I’m doing hard cutting and running right now,” says Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles admitting, “not a hundred percent yet, but getting there. When I was down in Pensacola, Dr. Andrews, who did my surgery, he said I was ahead of schedule.”
An eager to return-to-action Charles anticipates his club “being smart” when he attends OTAs and expects “they’ll probably wait until training camp” before returning to full football activities.
Once in camp, Charles rejoins the backfield with Dexter McCluster and off-season acquisition Peyton Hillis. “I’m glad that Peyton came to our team. And I just want to make history with him like I did with Thomas Jones [and] with Dex too,” said an anxious Charles who “can’t wait [to] be around them guys and see how we all react and see what the next chapter is for us as a whole team moving on this upcoming season.”
In addition to Hillis, the Chiefs also acquired free agent right tackle Eric Winston from the Houston Texans who will join Branden Albert and Ryan Lilja to anchor the Chiefs new zone-blocking front-five that will pave the way for the one-cut-and-go running style of Charles. “No matter what scheme it’s going to be, I just want to play football again, I’ll be so happy,” expressed Charles adding, “that I’ll make my day and I know it will make my family’s day just seeing me back on the field.”
And two of those ‘days’ in particular, Charles made his Chief’s family happy as well nearly setting the single game rushing record and the season average yards-per-carry record in week 17 of the 2009 and 2010 seasons respectively. “I was just … running trying to make plays and help my team win and that’s what every game’s about,” explains Charles while honestly admitting, “I love breaking records. If I had somebody in my ear, ‘hey you need one more yard to do this, you need two more yards’, I probably would have went back in the game.”
In the final game of the 2010 season against Oakland, Charles rushed for 87 yards on 14 carries in a 31 – 10 defeat. Stuffed for a negative rush of one yard on his final attempt, Charles’s yard-per-carry average dropped two-hundredths below Brown’s 6.4 record. “I really didn’t know at that time. Every game I go, I try to make history; I love making history but I really didn’t know where I was at that time and coach decided to pull me out because next week was the playoffs so that’s what our mind was really focused on,” stated the first-time playoff bound Charles.
But the ensuing game would not be one of those ‘happy history-making’ days for Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs. Facing the Baltimore Ravens that Saturday, the Chiefs had not been in the playoffs since 2006 suffering a 23 – 8 Wild Card loss to the Indianapolis Colts. “Everybody was just excited about being in the playoffs, Kansas City Chiefs didn’t make it in a long time, and I ain’t say nobody didn’t give their all, just some people didn’t believe that we can do it,” assessed Charles of the 30 – 7 loss against Baltimore. “Everybody on our team didn’t have enough faith; we playing against one of the best defenses, we playing against Ray Lewis, but it was just another team and that’s how we got to approach it,” explains a confident Charles thirsting to get back on the field in 2012.
And of that approach this year, Charles thinks if “we can all just stay on the same page and be confident and go out there and play the games, one game at a time … hopefully I can build confidence in my teammates.” The ‘confidence rebuilding’ process actually began under then interim head coach Romeo Crennel who replaced former head coach Todd Haley after his dismissal from the organization following a defeat by the New York Jets on December 11th.
“That brought a lot of confidence to the team, and Romeo took over at that time,” says Charles of the following week’s surprise upset victory over the then undefeated, defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. “A lot of people started believing behind [Crennel] that maybe we can win games like this ... we can build with the right team, right personnel, and maybe we can win the big one,” said Charles who himself has a personal rebuilding process of his ACL to complete. “Everybody going to always have that mind you tore your ACL, you’re never going to be the same,” understands Charles confidently countering, “that’s their opinion, but in my opinion and our opinion, we’re going to come back stronger so we trying to improve our team as well at the same time.”
The “our” Charles refers to includes Chiefs safety Eric Berry and tight-end Tony Moeaki who each suffered torn ACLs as well in the Chiefs injury-riddled season of 2011. And of the carnage that left “nobody mentioning [their] names last season,” Charles says, “We want somebody to pay for it ... I know next year we have most of our pieces coming back, some of the superstar people coming back to the team, hopefully we can make a big step next year. I know a lot of people ain’t talking about us a lot, but that’s ok, we’ll be under dogs.”
In order to make that ‘big step’ one of teams that Charles’ Chiefs must look to ‘make pay’ twice a year are the division rival Denver Broncos who now include the very same Peyton Manning who quarterbacked the Colts to that playoff win over the Chiefs in 2006.
“I really don’t really care who in our way, we got to get them out of our way. I don’t care who they go get,” demonstratively states Charles while adding “Playing Peyton twice a year will be great because he’s a great NFL Hall of Fame quarterback but he’s in our way as well.” The Chiefs 2012 schedule also features a road game against the New Orleans Saints of which Charles jokes, “I know we got to play them this year, so I’m happy they don’t have a coach.”
And of the sport and season which Charles is clearly confident and ready to make history he says, “I just know that it’s going to be a hell of a season this year and can’t wait to get on the field; I’m excited, I miss the game, I’m in love with it.”